2016 Aragon MotoGP Friday Round Up: Tire Preservation, Honda Race Pace, and Allowing Riders to be Human

Could there be a ninth winner in nine MotoGP races? On Thursday, the massed ranks of MotoGP riders had elected Andrea Dovizioso for the role. "I'm happy they said my name," Dovizioso told us journalists on Friday, "but they have put a lot of pressure on me. Because I have to win this race, and today wasn't the best day for me to try to think about winning..."

The Ducati rider had struggled with a lack of grip on the track, adding to the fact that this is not a great track for Dovizioso. "This track doesn't have the best characteristic for my style," he said. Dovizioso's strength lies in hard braking and quick turning, and there is not enough of that to suit the Italian. Add low grip to that, and he faces an uphill struggle.

Dovizioso also faces Aragon with a new teammate. Andrea Iannone has once again been forced to withdraw, the T3 vertebra he injured at Misano causing him too much pain to continue. He could manage three or four laps, before needing to return to the pits and get some rest. With 22 laps coming up on Sunday, Iannone quickly understood that would be too much. Michele Pirro was already on standby, and once FP1 made it clear that Iannone would not be able to ride, Ducati's test rider was put on the bike.

Low grip means managing tires

Low track grip threw everyone a curve ball. Though times dropped in the afternoon, most riders felt track conditions had worsened. The culprit? Overcast skies keeping temperatures lower than expected, and teams trying to figure out how to get the best of the Michelin tires. The general consensus on the rear tires was that the allocation had erred on the soft side, the softer of the two compounds being used up in the space of three or four laps, while the harder tire would last, but would still need careful management.

Tire management, you say? One name springs to mind. In the afternoon session, I headed out to the side of the track to watch the bikes, standing at the Bus Stop section, to see the entry of Turn 12, the bikes through Turn 13, and how the bikes went out of Turn 15. That vantage point also offered a view of Turn 2 and Turn 3. That's a lot of corners, with a fair few short straights in between. You get a good idea of what the various riders are doing there – hence John Laverty, brother and rider coach of Eugene, having taking up position there.

Both Movistar Yamahas looked smooth through there, though both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo were circulating at speed. Rossi, in particular, looked slow, despite his name being near the top of the timesheets. His lazy style belied his hustle, Rossi running a taller gear through Turn 13 to try to conserve the tire. "We are quite fast but we suffer a bit after some laps, because we stress a bit too much the tires and we lose some grip and performance," Rossi said after practice. The rear was spinning a lot, and Rossi had been working on reducing the amount of wheelspin. "I think the tire can last all race, but it is a problem of lap time. It will be crucial to lose as little as possible, especially after seven or eight laps."

The Repsol Menace

It was the Hondas which Rossi was most worried about. "We have to try to improve, because the race pace for the Hondas is strong," he said. Rossi's own race pace was not so bad: in his first run on old tires he lapped comfortably in the low 1'49s. But that was about the same pace as Dani Pedrosa, the Repsol Honda rider also hitting that pace on old rubber. When new tires went in at the end of the session, it was Marc Márquez who took over on race pace, stringing together a long run of laps in the mid- to high 1'48s.

That time put Márquez into second, behind Dani Pedrosa and ahead of Cal Crutchlow, making it three Hondas in the top three, with just eight hundredths of a second separating Crutchlow from Pedrosa. Márquez was keen to point out that while he had used a new tire to set his fast time, it had been set using the harder of the two rear options. "Dani and Cal put a new soft at the end [of FP2]," Márquez told us. "I also put a new tire, but the hard one, which always has less grip."

If Márquez was keen to imply that he was faster than others might think, Cal Crutchlow seemed to be taking the opposite approach. He spent his debrief complaining about a lack of acceleration, describing how he was losing three and a half tenths of a second out of Turn 15 and along the back straight to Dani Pedrosa. He had tried everything, he said, including holding his breath. "This is how sickening this sport is," Crutchlow said, "I even tried not breathing down that back straight, so my body never went up. So as I came out of Turn 15 I breathed out, and I didn't breathe in again until I braked into the next corner. I don't know how many seconds it is, but I felt like I was turning purple under the helmet, and it didn't gain a millionth of a second."

The lady doth protest too much, methinks

In Crutchlow's case, he seemed to be making a little too much of his disadvantages. This is not the first time he has done this, and it raised suspicions among some of us. A look at Crutchlow's race pace further confirmed out suspicions: on used tires, Crutchlow was about as fast as Pedrosa. When Crutchlow starts to underplay his performance, it is time to have a quiet bet on the LCR Honda rider. Beating the Repsol Hondas might be hard, but it would be no surprise to see Crutchlow complete a Honda lockout of the podium.

While Valentino Rossi is the most likely candidate to crash the Honda party, his Movistar Yamaha teammate may be capable of spoiling the fun as well. Jorge Lorenzo suffered vibration with the two medium front tires (labeled medium or hard, and referred to by Michelin as the V and the K), and wanted to work with the soft front, or P tire. But with Michelin bringing so many fronts this weekend – as well as the soft and the two mediums, the French tire maker has also brought an asymmetric front tire, which is softer on the left but much harder on the right – Lorenzo has been forced to save his allocation, and had gone out on an old soft tire in the afternoon session, one which already had 20 laps on it.

A new front would have been worth three or four tenths, Lorenzo said, putting him right in the middle of the Hondas. Despite that, he and his team still had their work cut out for them. The rear tire was sliding a lot on entry – that was easily visible at Turn 13, Lorenzo sliding both front and rear tires through that corner – and Lorenzo said he was struggling with braking for corner entry.

Suzuki strategy

There was work to do for Maverick Viñales as well, though his sixth position was very much part of the game plan. The Suzuki rider had spent all day working on race set up, waiting to chase a really fast lap on Saturday, when his thoughts would turn to qualifying. It is an old strategy adopted in the recent past with some success. First, focus on race set up, before turning your gaze on qualifying. The race, after all, is where it all counts.

Aleix Espargaro was particularly concerned about tire life. Both tires were too soft for him, he said. "The soft is destroyed after three or four laps," Espargaro told us, leaving the hard as the only viable rear option for the Spaniard. Suzuki is getting the rear wheel spin which has plagued the GSX-RR under control, but that came at a price.

"The compromise between spin and pumping is really thin," Espargaro said. "It depends what you prefer, you adjust the electronics in one way or another, to let the bike spin more, or if you don't like the spin, you put more traction control, and because the power is on-off, you have a bit more pumping." That was visible on the exit of Turn 13, where Aleix had the rear tire moving around a lot on one exit, then the rear wheel spinning on the next. "I prefer a bit more spin," he said, "because I'm smooth with the throttle, so I prefer to spin a little bit, because I never destroy the rear tire. But tomorrow it will change a little bit, I think it's going to be a bit hotter, so we'll see."

Electronics, old and new

A similarly stark choice faced the Aprilia squad. In FP2, the Aprilia RS-GP was hoisting the front wheel on a regular basis out of Turn 15. That had been a conscious decision, Alvaro Bautista revealed. In the morning session, they had been using a lot more anti wheelie control, but that had made the bike feel dog slow out of that tight last corner, Bautista said. With the anti wheelie turned off, the bike had a lot more drive out of Turn 15, but it did mean that Bautista and Stefan Bradl had to work a lot harder to keep the front down.

Nicky Hayden also made his return on a MotoGP bike, riding carefully and sensibly on the Marc VDS Racing Honda RC213V. Hayden finished the day dead last, though he had closed the gap to the front by half a second in the afternoon. His comments after practice were illuminating. The rear Michelin felt immediately familiar and comfortable, and had required little adaptation, Hayden said. But he was still struggling with the front, trying to figure out where the limit was without crashing. It is a common problem for MotoGP riders, though the regulars have all had the best part of a year on the French rubber, and time to adapt their riding style, and for the teams to figure out a better set up.

How did the RC213V compare to the Open class Honda Hayden rode in MotoGP before he left? This bike was an awful lot smoother, the spec electronics working a lot better than the Open class electronics from last year. Hayden was making steady progress, upping his pace every session, but he is still a long way off the pace of the front. The chances of Hayden being the ninth winner are just about inconceivable. But there is some rain forecast on Friday, specifically around race day. So don't write off Hayden just yet. Improbable? Definitely. Impossible? Nothing is impossible this year.

Racing is for humans

Nothing, except the gesticulating at other riders who are in your way, it seems. An FIM directive went out to all of the riders, warning of fines to be handed out to anyone who got into arguments on track with other riders and starting using expressive hand signals (whether obscene or otherwise) to show their discontent.

Cal Crutchlow – that most expressive of riders – expressed his severe disappointment with the decision. "It adds a bit of spice to it," Crutchlow said. "I liked it when Casey blew his head in Le Mans. I think there’s nothing wrong with it. I liked what Rossi did in Misano. Why not? At the end of the day it’s what you feel at the time. It’s no different to saying it on live TV. Remember when Fenati were kicking each other on the slow down lap. As long as nobody’s hurt."

Crutchlow has a very good point. Gesticulating – especially of the NSFW variety – is part and parcel of motorcycle racing. The great glory of the sport is that it is so visibly human. Riders perch atop a motorcycle, rather than hiding away in a tub, as is the case in F1. Riders' body language is immediately visible, their irritation is plain to see. Allowing them to vent at each other shows the fans at home just how much the riders care, just how much it matters. It brings emotion to the sport, and gets those feelings across to the casual fan.

By banning all such gestures, the FIM is shooting itself in the foot. The reason fans watch motorcycle racing is to see the greatest riders of all time, racing on the best bikes. They want to see human emotion, and that can mean anger, irritation, short-temperedness. Take that away, and you have robots racing each other. And nobody wants to watch that.

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There are many aspects of racing the FIM could be drawing attention to; gesticulation is not one of them. 

Sports are, at the heart of it, entertainment, and participants sharing their emotions is entertaining. 

If we wanted to watch robots ride, Yamaha's already got one that's nearly ready...

I do have to point out, though, that I think there's at least one sentence missing from the "Racing is for Humans" section.  That section begins with "Nothing, except the gesticulating at other riders who are in your way, it seems."  I'm guessing there's supposed to be something before that.

Thought you'd want to know.  Feel free to delete this after you fix it.

like a true poet he started the last section referring to the last sentence of the previous, which is what i think you believe is missing

"But there is some rain forecast on Friday, specifically around race day. So don't write off Hayden just yet. Improbable? Definitely. Impossible? Nothing is impossible this year. Nothing, except the gesticulating at other riders who are in your way, it seems.

really smart and reminding me of the better lyricists in the business!

what's next, riders earn a pacifier and a hot coco if they behave well on track? why dont we put a FIM nobody on a motogp racing bike, let him go 300 on the straight and have him passed right and left within inches distance. let's see how calm his fingers and body language remains ....

I'm pretty sure this is not the end of gestures. Come on! These guys are running on adrenaline. They do everything by the instant and don't think much over it. Dorna better focus on stuff that matters rather on things that make racing, well Racing.

Arrived at full chat - i.e. on the very limit of adhesion - to find a dwadling de Puniet in his path.  He had nowhere to go but to split the tiny gap.  BOTH riders could have been horribly injured - or worse.

And what has been largely forgotten is that de Puniet - to his eternal credit - not only stated categorically that the incident was his fault, but went into bat for Stoner against Race Direction fining him (Stoner) for his action - which was no more than a 'heads-up' to de Puniet, anyway. 

de Puniet knew that his action had placed both Stoner and himself in serious danger - he was having a brain-fart, on the racing line.  He did the entirely honourable thing by defending Stoner - because he knew that Stoner's skill had avoided terrible consequences for both of them.  Full kudos for de Puniet.

Sometimes, gesticulation has the purpose of alerting Race Direction to a rider's feeling that another rider's action has been questionable.  In a sport where death or terrible injury is entirely a part of the mix, it is ludicrous to impose standards of behaviour appropriate to a Chess Tournament.

The FIM Stewards are not out there, putting their spinal column on the line.  They don't get flung off their seats at 250kph or so, with 160 kgs of malevolent metal bouncing around them.  They don't have to hope that gravel and sand and an air-fence will see them safely walking around holding their kid's hands and looking forward to a satisfying old age of good memories at the end of a racing weekend.

motoGp racing is a visceral sport performed by Gladiators who accept the huge risks involved.  There are no Marquis of Queensbury rules for survival.  I would accept penalties for gratutious insults via gesticulation - e.g. deliberately winding another rider up in a 'neutral' context - but it is completely unreasonable and contrary to the realities of the sport, to penalise riders for 'spur of the moment' gesticulation bought on by the immediate circumstances of the occasion.


Banning all gestures is so ridiculous it's as if FIM wanted to go back to the XVIII century duels when gentlemen could shoot each other but in a very polished and well brought up manner....don't they have more urgent and important matters to attend to ?
As for the race .... well the 3 Hondas seem above all the others. And I'm wondering: do you think there might be some unspoken team orders? What I mean is : Pedrosa seems more and more confident and so does Cal..... will they be allowed to bring it on to Marquez? Or if they are fighting for position they know that they can go only so far and then back off ? From the manufacturer's point of view this is the correct strategy (yes to Honda 1 2 3 but do not steal points from the leader) at the same time I don't think Cal would accept it and honestly neither would the new Pedrosa in my opinion.... any thoughts on this?

My middle finger is proudly raised to the FIM, what a complete and utter load of tosh. I suppose next the riders will be banned from showing joy when they win. 

the suspicion that FIM consists of old men (in suits) who lost touch with reality (politics anyone?) seems almost justified  ;)

crutchlow is damn right that it adds even more spice to the racing,... or maybe like true life politicians the FIM spotted a hidden form of taxation as those who can afford it will continue doing it. Also this behaviour happens when the rest no longer matters so in some cases money won't be what's on the villain's mind.

bring on quali!!!

—they'd better also ban thumbs-ups, on-the-roll handshakes, and slaps-on-the-back between riders who are happy for each other or honoring an opponent after a close and mutually-accepted-as-clean fight. And then there's a whole lot of similar policing to be done by the UCI in cycling, heaven knows. They're way behind this curve. Yes, let's remove all sentiment from our sports. That'll make them much more inspiring to watch.

I can't handle the thought of this being for real. I know it shouldnt upset me but it does. I hate the fact that FIM are now dictating to riders what they can and can't do in this respect and the possibility that it might just be a foot in the door in terms of what can and can't be said or done in the future. What next ........ riders will have to resort to interperative dance to be able to express themselves or all become mimes ....no can't do that it because it involves gesticulation. Are fans being told not to gesticulate? Managers and teams?

As an example of why this idea sucks, if a rider is wildly gesticulating to another rider that his bike is on fire does that count? Oil or water leaks being pointed out? Tyres delaminating? 

Gesticulating to vent your frustration is a hell of a lot better than physical contact and may just avoid that. It doesn't hurt anyone unless its a gesticulation directly to the eyeball or groin!!!! Please for goodness sake FIM stop trying to be so PC and let them do what comes naturally!!!!